54. Information to Improve Decision Making for Health

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Abstract

Richard Lord, www.rlordphoto.com

There has been little awareness among decision makers that better information use can have significant ramifications for advancing health. Even less attention has been given to the systems needed to provide timely, accurate, and relevant information. In addition, citizens require appropriate health information to choose healthy behaviors, to demand effective policies and services, and to hold their governments accountable for the allocation and use of resources for health.

There is a disconnect between the need for information and the ability to respond to that need. Harmonizing data collection, standards, best practices, and other elements of a national and global health information system (HIS) offers many advantages. An effective HIS requires an architecture that defines the data elements, processes, and procedures for collection, collation, presentation, and use of information throughout the health sector. It is critical to design information systems that meet the needs of decision makers and that create a culture that provides incentives and accountability for evidence–based decision making.

Quantifying the value of health information is challenging, but it is easier to define the interventions necessary to improve health information. It is helpful to draw on studies that have estimated the cost and cost–effectiveness of investments in improving health information, such as the Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Program.

Research should drive the continual refinement of HIS methods and tools, thereby ensuring well–documented and expanding returns on investments in health. The success of efforts to reduce poverty and health inequity will depend on the existence of information systems to detect those problems, facilitate the design of solutions, and track progress toward eliminating the problems.